PHILLIP ISLAND, AUSTRALIA, OCT 26 – Ducati Marlboro’s Valentino Rossi said he didn’t have a bad day, even though he finished two seconds off the pace on a cold, blustery and occasionally wet afternoon at Phillip Island.
There was no matching Repsol Honda’s Casey Stoner on the first day of his final weekend of MotoGP racing at his home track. Despite the pain and immobility of his right ankle, Stoner was a staggering .885 sec. faster than teammate Dani Pedrosa with more than a second on championship leader Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) as he attempts to win his home race for a record-breaking sixth consecutive time. The gaps down the order decreased after the top three, with Rossi not too far off the satellite Hondas of Alvaro Bautista, sixth on the San Carlo Honda Gresini RC213V, and Stefan Bradl of the LCR Honda MotoGP team. .
Stoner didn’t bother slipping the softer option Bridgestone rear in to impress anyone. Instead he impressed by setting his fast time on the hard tire, the almost certain race choice on a track that produces the highest rear tire temperatures of the year. Rossi agreed that the harder tire was probably the right choice, though it made controlling the motorcycle more difficult. .
“For me the hard is not a bad idea, for me,” Rossi, himself a five-time premier class winner here, said. “I tried both, but with the soft for sure the second half is difficult. The problem is that with the soft you can control the slide in an easier way, because it’s very smooth and you can control with the throttle the amount of spin. With the hard the bike becomes more tricky to ride and is more difficult to control the spin, because it spins more. So for this reason it’s difficult. So I think that the hard can provide pace for the 27 laps.” .
Rossi pointed out that he was in front of his teammate Nicky Hayden, who had a trouble-filled day, “but especially we are not so far from the two Hondas, from Bradl and Bautista, that have in the fastest lap are faster than us, but in the rhythm today are very close. So for us is already a good target if we are able to do the race together with them.
“But you know, today is just Friday, so for sure tomorrow everybody will go faster and we have to go faster also us for make a good race. And I think that here you need to find the good balance for ride the bike at the maximum in the long corners, but at the same time the bigger issue is the traction on the left in acceleration from three or four corners and you have to find the right balance for ride the bike without losing too much traction. Also because you lose time, but especially because if the rear tire spin very much the temperature increase a lot and when the temperature go over the limit, the tire becomes very soft, very difficult to control, so this is the main issue I think for Sunday, try to spin as less as possible for keep the tire on the right range for remain more constant. But now we have to see. Usually the track improves, because the track condition is not fantastic. Have two or three corners where have a lot of bumps, the asphalt is not fantastic, so we have to see, but can be an option also use the hard tire for Sunday, so we have to decide tomorrow.”
Rossi spent a lot of his media gathering being asked questions about Stoner, who he said didn’t surprise him with his performance. He said a lot of people thought the ankle would be a problem, but it wasn’t “because looks like the ankle in five days is improved a lot from Malaysia,” he said cheekily. “No, I mean, I expect that Stoner is very fast here, so he won the last five Australian Grand Prixs in a row and looks like that with the Honda is also faster and Honda now is very strong, also Pedrosa is good, but is clear that here Stoner makes the difference, so.”
Rossi doesn’t see the ankle being a hindrance in Sunday’s penultimate round of the championship because Stoner has a “good advantage, he can go fast with the soft, with the hard.” That he had such a gaping time gap on second place was “strange,” Rossi said, “very strange. “In the other race track usually the top guys are more close. And I think is because the Honda now is very good in acceleration, especially where you have to need traction, where you have to put the horsepower down.”
Rossi compared Stoner to a character in Dragon Ball, whose feet never touch the ground. “When you arrive in your home grand prix and some times the place, the track that is your track give to you the extra, and already Stoner and Honda are fast every time, everywhere, so he has a huge advantage. But, yeah, have two or three points where he do the difference, also compared to the other guys. Because also Pedrosa is fast. I follow him and he ride very well, he slide also a lot in a very good way, but Stoner is faster.”
Though Rossi said he didn’t have a bad day, Hayden said the opposite. Hayden still holds the lap record here from 2008, but that will certainly fall in Sunday’s race. And, unless he and his time find a miracle cure, he won’t leave here with fond memories.
“Yeah, was definitely not my best day at Phillip Island,” he said. “I struggled a lot with a lot of different things. I didn’t have a good feeling with the bike. It was moving a lot, especially in the fast corners, so was a really difficult day.
“You know, the wind, the cold conditions and the rain drops didn’t help anything, but that’s the same for everybody, but certainly made it hard for me to get any feeling. And we need to have a big think tonight and see why I’m missing feedback from the bike, so, you know we’re not so far away this morning, apart from Casey, but the other guys. And then this afternoon a couple of things we did was all pretty much worse and in fact I was slower this afternoon than this morning, so definitely don’t have a very good direction right now.”
Phillip Island MotoGP Practice Results:
1. Casey Stoner (Honda) 1:29.999
2. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 1:30.884
3. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) 1:31.005
4. Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha) 1:31.367
5. Andrea Dovizioso (Yamaha) 1:31.458
6. Alvaro Bautista (Honda) 1:31.616
7. Stefan Bradl (Honda) 1:31.702
8. Valentino Rossi (Ducati) 1:32.030
9. Nicky Hayden (Ducati) 1:32.312
10. Randy de Puniet (ART) 1:32.674
14. Colin Edwards (Suter) 1:33.835